1 Paper presented at 10th European Congress of Psychology, Prague, CZ, July 3-6, 2007. Dave Hiles 2007. Human Diversity and the Meaning of Difference David Hiles Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. There are probably differences of all sorts in the world [ .. ] there is no reason to deny this reality or this Diversity [ .. ]. It is only when these differences have been organized within language, within discourse, within systems of Meaning , that the differences can be said to acquire Meaning and can become a factor in Human culture and regulate conduct.. Stuart Hall (1997) Race, the Floating Signifier. Abstract There is possibly no other field in more urgent need for research than in the tolerance and understanding of Human Difference .
2 This paper is a critique of psychology's focus upon the psychometric measurement of individual differences , which has been at the expense of the study of the Meaning of Human differences . The discussion builds upon the radical position adopted by the British sociologist, Stuart Hall, who argues that Human differences need to be approached from a discursive perspective. I will argue that this can provide the basis for a completely revised program of research into the psychological understanding of the discourses of Difference . This has immediate relevance to a critical psychology approach to the fields of intelligence, gender, class, race and disability. In this paper I will focus more closely on the last of these, with particular emphasis on a radical re-interpretation of the Social Model of Disability.
3 Introduction The study of Human differences has always been a central topic in the discipline of psychology. Until now, the major focus of this field has been on the measurement of Human differences , and the subsequent emergence of a range of psychometrically conceived theories of Human intelligence and Human personality, etc. However, this is not a field of study without its controversies, viz. fixed vs. fluid intelligence, the hereditability issue, the race and intelligence debate, types vs. traits, etc. These controversial issues have expanded to such an extent that there are some who have labeled this area of psychology at worse a pseudoscience, or, possibly at best, an industry driven by the political need to establish an ordinality of differences .
4 That is, a science that has achieved little more than a classification and pigeon-holing of people for the efficacy of our health, education, immigration and employment systems, etc, etc. This paper sets out to add yet another controversy to this field of study. 10th European Congress of Psychology Dave Hiles 2007 Page 1. One consequence of such a focus on the descriptions and measurements of individual differences is that there is a serious blind spot to one crucial issue, which is concerned with a focus upon the Meaning given to these differences in our everyday world. The argument here is that what really matters, is not whether or how these differences can be measured, but with the way in which these differences take on meanings, what they end up signifying, and how they have come to be used in our social, cultural and professional practices.
5 The issue that then arises is whether we should be less concerned with the differences between people, and rather more concerned with the study of Human differences themselves, particularly in terms of the ways in which such differences do make a Difference in people's lives. Unfortunately, as soon as we focus on the theorizing of Human differences in this way, on the Meaning of Human differences , we must confront a fundamental problem. The problem is that the meanings of Human differences are not inherently fixed, but are open to manipulation. Where they do become apparently fixed, then this is largely the consequence of ideological processes at work. But this problem is precisely the issue.
6 It is a serious blind spot for psychology, and this is the focus of my paper. Stuart Hall: Race as a Floating Signifier The model being proposed here is closer to that of how a language works than of how our biologies, or our physiologies work that race is more like a language than it is the way in which we are biologically constituted. (Stuart Hall, 1997). The inspiration for the approach that I want to adopt stems from the work of Stuart Hall, who was Director of Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, and Professor of Sociology at the Open University. In 1994, at Harvard University, Hall delivered the Du Bois Lecture, entitled Race, Ethnicity, Nation.
7 Although this landmark lecture never made it into print, it was redelivered and recorded at Goldsmiths College, London, in 1996, and then published by the Media Education Foundation, in 1997, as a video entitled Race, the Floating Signifier.. In his lecture, Hall focuses upon race, but he stresses that his position can be generalized across the entire field of Human differences . Hall proposes that what really matters is not the ways in which Human differences can be measured, but with how these differences are being used in our culture, what they signify, what they have come to mean, and, in particular, how certain branches of science have been complicit in establishing such meanings.
8 Moreover, Hall argues that these meanings of Human differences are not fixed, instead they float, they slip and slide, and it is this problem that Hall makes his central issue (Hall, 1994, 1997). Hall locates race as one of those major concepts which organize the great classificatory systems of Difference which operate in Human society. In Figure 1, I have adapted the diagram he uses to set out these major categories of Human Difference . I have re-drawn this to include (and highlight) ability/disability which he overlooks, and I have grouped Gender/Class/Ethnicity together because these are much more arbitrary in their 10th European Congress of Psychology Dave Hiles 2007 Page 2.
9 Class Gender Ethnicity Human differences Ability/. Race Disability Age Sexuality Figure 1: Categories of Human Difference (Revised from Hall, 1997). construction of differences . While the other four categories could be argued to be more grounded in the body (a point that Hall clearly does make), the categories of Gender, Class and Ethnicity are clearly constructions. The implications of this I will briefly consider later, however, a more in-depth discussion will have to be left to be taken up elsewhere. Hall's argument The body is a text, and we are all readers of it. We are readers of race, we are readers of Human Difference . Race works like a language (Stuart Hall, 1997).
10 I will first try to summarize Hall's basic argument. He begins with an apology for raising the issue of racial differences yet again, but states his aim of intending to offer a radically different view of the whole field. He rejects the biological theory of racial differences , and instead argues that it is the Meaning of racial differences that is the central issue. He propses tha race is a discourse, and that race needs to be seen as working like a language. This does not deny the reality of the physical differences that exist between people, but it stresses that the meanings given to these physical differences is what matters. 10th European Congress of Psychology Dave Hiles 2007 Page 3.